<br/>It is the threshing of the last wheat-rick at
Flintcomb-Ash farm. The dawn of the March morning is
singularly inexpressive, and there is nothing to show
where the eastern horizon lies. Against the twilight
rises the trapezoidal top of the stack, which has stood
forlornly here through the washing and bleaching of the
<br/>When Izz Huett and Tess arrived at the scene of
operations only a rustling denoted that others had
preceded them; to which, as the light increased, there
were presently added the silhouettes of two men on the
summit. They were busily "unhaling" the rick, that is,
stripping off the thatch before beginning to throw down
the sheaves; and while this was in progress Izz and
Tess, with the other women-workers, in their
whitey-brown pinners, stood waiting and shivering,
Farmer Groby having insisted upon their being on the
spot thus early to get the job over if possible by the
end of the day. Close under the eaves of the stack,
and as yet barely visible, was the red tyrant that the
women had come to serve—a timber-framed construction,
with straps and wheels appertaining—the
threshing-machine which, whilst it was going, kept up a
despotic demand upon the endurance of their muscles and
<br/>A little way off there was another indistinct
figure; this one black, with a sustained hiss that
spoke of strength very much in reserve. The long
chimney running up beside an ash-tree, and the warmth
which radiated from the spot, explained without the
necessity of much daylight that here was the engine
which was to act as the <i>primum mobile</i> of this little
world. By the engine stood a dark, motionless being, a
sooty and grimy embodiment of tallness, in a sort of
trance, with a heap of coals by his side: it was the
engine-man. The isolation of his manner and colour lent
him the appearance of a creature from Tophet, who had
strayed into the pellucid smokelessness of this region
of yellow grain and pale soil, with which he had
nothing in common, to amaze and to discompose its
<br/>What he looked he felt. He was in the agricultural
world, but not of it. He served fire and smoke; these
denizens of the fields served vegetation, weather,
frost, and sun. He travelled with his engine from farm
to farm, from county to county, for as yet the steam
threshing-machine was itinerant in this part of Wessex.
He spoke in a strange northern accent; his thoughts
being turned inwards upon himself, his eye on his iron
charge, hardly perceiving the scenes around him, and
caring for them not at all: holding only strictly
necessary intercourse with the natives, as if some
ancient doom compelled him to wander here against his
will in the service of his Plutonic master. The long
strap which ran from the driving-wheel of his engine to
the red thresher under the rick was the sole tie-line
between agriculture and him.
<br/>While they uncovered the sheaves he stood apathetic
beside his portable repository of force, round whose
hot blackness the morning air quivered. He had nothing
to do with preparatory labour. His fire was waiting
incandescent, his steam was at high pressure, in a few
seconds he could make the long strap move at an
invisible velocity. Beyond its extent the environment
might be corn, straw, or chaos; it was all the same to
him. If any of the autochthonous idlers asked him what
he called himself, he replied shortly, "an engineer."
<br/>The rick was unhaled by full daylight; the men then
took their places, the women mounted, and the work
began. Farmer Groby—or, as they called him, "he"—had
arrived ere this, and by his orders Tess was placed on
the platform of the machine, close to the man who fed
it, her business being to untie every sheaf of corn
handed on to her by Izz Huett, who stood next, but on
the rick; so that the feeder could seize it and spread
it over the revolving drum, which whisked out every
grain in one moment.
<br/>They were soon in full progress, after a preparatory
hitch or two, which rejoiced the hearts of those who
hated machinery. The work sped on till breakfast time,
when the thresher was stopped for half an hour; and on
starting again after the meal the whole supplementary
strength of the farm was thrown into the labour of
constructing the straw-rick, which began to grow
beside the stack of corn. A hasty lunch
was eaten as they stood, without leaving their
positions, and then another couple of hours brought
them near to dinner-time; the inexorable wheel
continuing to spin, and the penetrating hum of the
thresher to thrill to the very marrow all who were near
the revolving wire-cage.
<br/>The old men on the rising straw-rick talked of the past
days when they had been accustomed to thresh with
flails on the oaken barn-floor; when everything, even
to winnowing, was effected by hand-labour, which, to
their thinking, though slow, produced better results.
Those, too, on the corn-rick talked a little; but the
perspiring ones at the machine, including Tess, could
not lighten their duties by the exchange of many words.
It was the ceaselessness of the work which tried her so
severely, and began to make her wish that she had never
some to Flintcomb-Ash. The women on the
corn-rick—Marian, who was one of them, in
particular—could stop to drink ale or cold tea from
the flagon now and then, or to exchange a few gossiping
remarks while they wiped their faces or cleared the
fragments of straw and husk from their clothing; but
for Tess there was no respite; for, as the drum never
stopped, the man who fed it could not stop, and she,
who had to supply the man with untied sheaves, could
not stop either, unless Marian changed places with her,
which she sometimes did for half an hour in spite of
Groby's objections that she was too slow-handed for a
<br/>For some probably economical reason it was usually a
woman who was chosen for this particular duty, and
Groby gave as his motive in selecting Tess that she was
one of those who best combined strength with quickness
in untying, and both with staying power, and this may
have been true. The hum of the thresher, which
prevented speech, increased to a raving whenever the
supply of corn fell short of the regular quantity. As
Tess and the man who fed could never turn their heads
she did not know that just before the dinner-hour a
person had come silently into the field by the gate,
and had been standing under a second rick watching the
scene and Tess in particular. He was dressed in a
tweed suit of fashionable pattern, and he twirled a gay
<br/>"Who is that?" said Izz Huett to Marian. She had at
first addressed the inquiry to Tess, but the latter
could not hear it.
<br/>"Somebody's fancy-man, I s'pose," said Marian
<br/>"I'll lay a guinea he's after Tess."
<br/>"O no. 'Tis a ranter pa'son who's been sniffing after
her lately; not a dandy like this."
<br/>"Well—this is the same man."
<br/>"The same man as the preacher? But he's quite
<br/>"He hev left off his black coat and white neckercher,
and hev cut off his whiskers; but he's the same man for
<br/>"D'ye really think so? Then I'll tell her," said
<br/>"Don't. She'll see him soon enough, good-now."
<br/>"Well, I don't think it at all right for him to join
his preaching to courting a married woman, even though
her husband mid be abroad, and she, in a sense, a
<br/>"Oh—he can do her no harm," said Izz drily. "Her mind
can no more be heaved from that one place where it do
bide than a stooded waggon from the hole he's in. Lord
love 'ee, neither court-paying, nor preaching, nor the
seven thunders themselves, can wean a woman when
'twould be better for her that she should be weaned."
<br/>Dinner-time came, and the whirling ceased; whereupon
Tess left her post, her knees trembling so wretchedly
with the shaking of the machine that she could scarcely
<br/>"You ought to het a quart o' drink into 'ee, as I've
done," said Marian. "You wouldn't look so white then.
Why, souls above us, your face is as if you'd been
<br/>It occurred to the good-natured Marian that, as Tess
was so tired, her discovery of her visitor's presence
might have the bad effect of taking away her appetite;
and Marian was thinking of inducing Tess to descend by
a ladder on the further side of the stack when the
gentleman came forward and looked up.
<br/>Tess uttered a short little "Oh!" And a moment after
she said, quickly, "I shall eat my dinner here—right
on the rick."
<br/>Sometimes, when they were so far from their cottages,
they all did this; but as there was rather a keen wind
going to-day, Marian and the rest descended, and sat
under the straw-stack.
<br/>The newcomer was, indeed, Alec d'Urberville,
the late Evangelist, despite his changed attire and
aspect. It was obvious at a glance that the original
<i>Weltlust</i> had come back; that he had restored
himself, as nearly as a man could do who had grown
three or four years older, to the old jaunty, slapdash
guise under which Tess had first known her admirer, and
cousin so-called. Having decided to remain where she
was, Tess sat down among the bundles, out of sight of
the ground, and began her meal; till, by-and-by, she
heard footsteps on the ladder, and immediately after
Alec appeared upon the stack—now an oblong and level
platform of sheaves. He strode across them, and sat
down opposite of her without a word.
<br/>Tess continued to eat her modest dinner, a slice of
thick pancake which she had brought with her. The
other workfolk were by this time all gathered under the
rick, where the loose straw formed a comfortable
<br/>"I am here again, as you see," said d'Urberville.
<br/>"Why do you trouble me so!" she cried, reproach
flashing from her very finger-ends.
<br/>"I trouble <i>you</i>? I think I may ask, why
do you trouble me?"
<br/>"Sure, I don't trouble you any-when!"
<br/>"You say you don't? But you do! You haunt me. Those
very eyes that you turned upon my with such a bitter
flash a moment ago, they come to me just as you showed
them then, in the night and in the day! Tess, ever
since you told me of that child of ours, it is just as
if my feelings, which have been flowing in a strong
puritanical stream, had suddenly found a way open in
the direction of you, and had all at once gushed
through. The religious channel is left dry forthwith;
and it is you who have done it!"
<br/>She gazed in silence.
<br/>"What—you have given up your preaching entirely?" she
asked. She had gathered from Angel sufficient of the
incredulity of modern thought to despise flash
enthusiasm; but, as a woman, she was somewhat appalled.
<br/>In affected severity d'Urberville continued—
<br/>"Entirely. I have broken every engagement since that
afternoon I was to address the drunkards at
Casterbridge Fair. The deuce only knows what I am
thought of by the brethren. Ah-ha! The brethren! No
doubt they pray for me—weep for me; for they are kind
people in their way. But what do I care? How could I
go on with the thing when I had lost my faith in
it?—it would have been hypocrisy of the basest kind!
Among them I should have stood like Hymenaeus and
Alexander, who were delivered over to Satan that they
might learn not to blaspheme. What a grand revenge you
have taken! I saw you innocent, and I deceived you.
Four years after, you find me a Christian enthusiast;
you then work upon me, perhaps to my complete
perdition! But Tess, my coz, as I used to call you,
this is only my way of talking, and you must not look
so horribly concerned. Of course you have done nothing
except retain your pretty face and shapely figure.
I saw it on the rick before you saw me—that tight
pinafore-thing sets it off, and that wing-bonnet—you
field-girls should never wear those bonnets if you wish
to keep out of danger." He regarded her silently for a
few moments, and with a short cynical laugh resumed:
"I believe that if the bachelor-apostle, whose deputy I
thought I was, had been tempted by such a pretty face,
he would have let go the plough for her sake as I do!"
<br/>Tess attempted to expostulate, but at this juncture all
her fluency failed her, and without heeding he added:
<br/>"Well, this paradise that you supply is perhaps as good
as any other, after all. But to speak seriously,
Tess." D'Urberville rose and came nearer, reclining
sideways amid the sheaves, and resting upon his elbow.
"Since I last saw you, I have been thinking of what you
said that <i>he</i> said. I have come to the conclusion that
there does seem rather a want of common-sense in these
threadbare old propositions; how I could have been so
fired by poor Parson Clare's enthusiasm, and have gone
so madly to work, transcending even him, I cannot make
out! As for what you said last time, on the strength of
your wonderful husband's intelligence—whose name you
have never told me—about having what they call an
ethical system without any dogma, I don't see my way to
that at all."
<br/>"Why, you can have the religion of loving-kindness and
purity at least, if you can't have—what do you call
<br/>"O no! I'm a different sort of fellow from that! If
there's nobody to say, 'Do this, and it will be a good
thing for you after you are dead; do that, and if will
be a bad thing for you,' I can't warm up. Hang it, I
am not going to feel responsible for my deeds and
passions if there's nobody to be responsible to; and if
I were you, my dear, I wouldn't either!"
<br/>She tried to argue, and tell him that he had mixed in
his dull brain two matters, theology and morals, which
in the primitive days of mankind had been quite
distinct. But owing to Angel Clare's reticence, to her
absolute want of training, and to her being a vessel of
emotions rather than reasons, she could not get on.
<br/>"Well, never mind," he resumed. "Here I am, my love,
as in the old times!"
<br/>"Not as then—never as then—'tis different!" she
entreated. "And there was never warmth with me!
O why didn't you keep your faith, if the loss of it has
brought you to speak to me like this!"
<br/>"Because you've knocked it out of me; so the evil be
upon your sweet head! Your husband little thought how
his teaching would recoil upon him! Ha-ha—I'm awfully
glad you have made an apostate of me all the same!
Tess, I am more taken with you than ever, and I pity
you too. For all your closeness, I see you are in a
bad way—neglected by one who ought to cherish you."
<br/>She could not get her morsels of food down her throat;
her lips were dry, and she was ready to choke. The
voices and laughs of the workfolk eating and drinking
under the rick came to her as if they were a quarter of
a mile off.
<br/>"It is cruelty to me!" she said. "How—how can you
treat me to this talk, if you care ever so little for
<br/>"True, true," he said, wincing a little. "I did not
come to reproach you for my deeds. I came Tess, to say
that I don't like you to be working like this, and I
have come on purpose for you. You say you have a
husband who is not I. Well, perhaps you have; but I've
never seen him, and you've not told me his name; and
altogether he seems rather a mythological personage.
However, even if you have one, I think I am nearer to
you than he is. I, at any rate, try to help you out of
trouble, but he does not, bless his invisible face!
The words of the stern prophet Hosea that I used to
read come back to me. Don't you know them, Tess?—'And
she shall follow after her lover, but she shall not
overtake him; and she shall seek him, but shall not
find him; then shall she say, I will go and return to
my first husband; for then was it better with me than
now!' … Tess, my trap is waiting just under the hill,
and—darling mine, not his!—you know the rest."
<br/>Her face had been rising to a dull crimson fire while
he spoke; but she did not answer.
<br/>"You have been the cause of my backsliding," he
continued, stretching his arm towards her waist; "you
should be willing to share it, and leave that mule you
call husband for ever."
<br/>One of her leather gloves, which she had taken off to
eat her skimmer-cake, lay in her lap, and without the
slightest warning she passionately swung the glove by
the gauntlet directly in his face. It was heavy and
thick as a warrior's, and it struck him flat on the
mouth. Fancy might have regarded the act as the
recrudescence of a trick in which her armed progenitors
were not unpractised. Alec fiercely started up from his
reclining position. A scarlet oozing appeared where
her blow had alighted, and in a moment the blood began
dropping from his mouth upon the straw. But he soon
controlled himself, calmly drew his handkerchief from
his pocket, and mopped his bleeding lips.
<br/>She too had sprung up, but she sank down again. "Now,
punish me!" she said, turning up her eyes to him with
the hopeless defiance of the sparrow's gaze before its
captor twists its neck. "Whip me, crush me; you need
not mind those people under the rick! I shall not cry
out. Once victim, always victim—that's the law!"
<br/>"O no, no, Tess," he said blandly. "I can make full
allowance for this. Yet you most unjustly forget one
thing, that I would have married you if you had not put
it out of my power to do so. Did I not ask you flatly
to be my wife—hey? Answer me."
<br/>"And you cannot be. But remember one thing!" His
voice hardened as his temper got the better of him with
the recollection of his sincerity in asking her and her
present ingratitude, and he stepped across to her side
and held her by the shoulders, so that she shook under
his grasp. "Remember, my lady, I was your master once!
I will be your master again. If you are any man's wife
you are mine!"
<br/>The threshers now began to stir below.
<br/>"So much for our quarrel," he said, letting her go.
"Now I shall leave you, and shall come again for your
answer during the afternoon. You don't know me yet!
But I know you."
<br/>She had not spoken again, remaining as if stunned.
D'Urberville retreated over the sheaves, and descended
the ladder, while the workers below rose and stretched
their arms, and shook down the beer they had drunk.
Then the threshing-machine started afresh; and amid the
renewed rustle of the straw Tess resumed her position
by the buzzing drum as one in a dream, untying sheaf
after sheaf in endless succession.
<div style="break-after:column;"></div><br />